Leaves

Leaves

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

I have often thought that my very last meal on this earth would have to be some sort of salad. Other things would certainly be involved, but it would be composed primarily of leaves, dressed with a beautiful extra virgin olive oil and a touch of acidity. I eat salad every day – I never tire of it as I find the possible flavour combinations endless.

When I grew up in Australia the choice of salad leaves was limited – to crunchy, watery Iceberg, crisp Cos and a few other lettuces, but little else. Rocket, radicchio, mâche and frisée were unheard of, and it wasn’t until I moved to Europe in my early twenties that I was able to sample all the beautiful loose-leafed and tightly spun varieties from France, Italy and elsewhere. I love them all, but rocket, purslane and baby spinach (or pousse) feature strongly in my dishes. And my favourite family of leaves encompasses tardivo, treviso, Castelfranco and pissenlit (or dandelion), all of which are elegant to behold and bittersweet to taste.

Almost everything I serve at the restaurant or at home arrives with a tangle of one leaf or another. Sometimes, when the leaves are perfect, I’ll present just one variety on its own – choosing it carefully to complement the food it is to be served with. At other times a variety of leaves is called for – some sweet, some bitter, some with bite, some soft – often with a handful of herb leaves thrown in.

We grow lots of young, sweet leaves in the summer, including purslane, bull’s blood, lollo rosso, mizuna, mignonette, pea shoots and rocket, which has a strength of flavour that I love. Rocket thrives easily, and with each cutting, it grows back stronger – and seemingly more intensely flavoured. I urge you to try and grow some, even if you only have a tub or window box. I’m also very fond of purslane – both the summer and winter varieties. Succulent and bouncy, it adds a fresh clean bite to salads. Pea shoots lend a similar vibrancy – totally delicious, they taste more of sweet fresh peas than the vegetables do themselves.

Some of the most interesting leaves, including the endives, red-leafed chicories (tardivo, treviso and radicchio), Castelfranco and pissenlit or dandelion are winter leaves. Some are attractively speckled, others striped, but all have a languid beauty that is truly breathtaking. Their distinctive bitter taste counterbalances rich winter dishes perfectly.

Do try to grow some of your own leaves, or at least source more exciting varieties from farmers’ markets and good greengrocers. Obviously, all leaves are best used as soon as possible after picking or buying. If you need to store them for a day or two, keep them loosely covered with a damp tea towel in the salad drawer of the fridge, but handle carefully, for they are fragile and suffer fridge burn and bruising easily.

Wash salad leaves gently and only if they really need it. Gently pat them dry with a clean tea towel or invest in a good salad spinner. This is essential, for leaves that are water sodden will be heavy and disappointing – and the dressing will taste diluted and slip from the leaves rather than cling to them.

Like all things, leaves have their season and none is available all year round. The winter months are filled with the bitter leaves, whereas in summer we have the softer fresher varieties. There is, however, something to enjoy every month throughout the year.

All things must be considered when composing a salad – texture and flavour of course, but also the colour and shape of the various leaves.

Recipes in this Chapter

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